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Paper: Chapter 35: Describing Data and Data Collections in the VO
Volume: 382, The National Virtual Observatory: Tools and Techniques for Astronomical Research
Page: 375
Authors: Kent, B.R.; Hanisch, R.J.; Williams, R.D.
Abstract: The list of numbers: 19.22, 17.23, 18.11, 16.98, and 15.11, is of little intrinsic interest without information about the context in which they appear. For instance, are these daily closing stock prices for your favorite investment, or are they hourly photometric measurements of an increasingly bright quasar? The information needed to define this context is called metadata. Metadata are data about data. Astronomers are familiar with metadata through the headers of FITS files and the names and units associated with columns in a table or database. In the VO, metadata describe the contents of tables, images, and spectra, as well as aggregate collections of data (archives, surveys) and computational services. Moreover, VO metadata are constructed according to rules that avoid ambiguity and make it clear whether, in the example above, the stock prices are in dollars or euros, or the photometry is Johnson V or Sloan g.

Organization of data is important in any scientific discipline. Equally crucial are the descriptions of that data: the organization publishing the data, its creator or the person making it available, what instruments were used, units assigned to measurement, calibration status, and data quality assessment. The Virtual Observatory metadata scheme not only applies to datasets, but to resources as well, including data archive facilities, searchable web forms, and online analysis and display tools. Since the scientific output flowing from large datasets depends greatly on how well the data are described, it is important for users to understand the basics of the metadata scheme in order to locate the data that they want and use it correctly. Metadata are the key to data discovery and data and service interoperability in the Virtual Observatory.

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